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A Do Be Do Be Life


Sermon for July 17, 2016” “A Do Be Do Be Life”. Scripture: Luke 10:38-42


A Joke. An old joke that I’m sure has many variations… this is mine: Two philosophers walk into Starbucks. One is a Behaviorist who orders a Venti Chai Tea with fat free soy milk. The other is an Existentialist who orders a Grande Americano with two extra shots and room for just a little cream.

The Behaviorist states firmly that to be is to do. What matters in life is what we DO. The Existentialist says no… what matters in life is how we respond to our being in the world. Therefore, to do is to be. A third person, a mystic carrying a green tea frapachino, overhears them and leans toward them and says: Do be do be do.

 This would be a great Midrash of the story of Mary and Martha. Midrash is a Jewish form of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. It is open, engaging and creative.

This story of Mary and Martha always jolts people in our world. First of all we assume that the sisters are like rivals. They are competing for Jesus’ affection. There is a sense that either Martha is right or Mary is. There can be no middle ground. And we sympathize with Martha, don’t we?

At the first church I served in Spokane, aptly named Martha Ravens, who often read scripture on Sunday mornings, but one morning she shared that she would like to be excused. The text was Mary and Martha and this Martha simply could not understand/accept it.

Martha was in charge of the kitchen – at 85 years old. Need I say more? “How would anything get done if Mary was in charge?! No coffee hour. No cookies. And who would tend the garden and pull the weeds?” I think Martha felt a little resentful and likely there were people in the church (particularly women) who felt a little guilty for not doing more because of Martha.

We live in a meritocracy…   ostensibly which rewards those who work the hardest. How would Mary land a job if she’s always acting like that? She’ll probably end up on welfare!

Last week I said that in our culture we value what is BIG. We also value doing… work… as opposed to being “just being” sounds lazy and new agey.

Doing is active and often focused on the future. It is painting the house. Jarring vegetables for the winter. Checking on our portfolio on a regular basis. Doing is being responsible. It is thinking and planning ahead. It is thinking in general – thinking is “virtual doing”. Doing is studying for an exam. Writing a paper. Working in order to survive and pay bills. It is taking care of children. Shopping and making dinner.

Being is different. It lives in the moment, being aware of what is happening now. It is listening to a friend and not thinking at the same time. Being lost in music. A baseball game. Prayer and worship. Being welcomes silence and spontaneity. Being is awareness of our feelings and paying attention to others. Martha was doing while Mary was being with Jesus.

We are a doing culture. We take less vacation than any other country in the developed world. In France everyone is off for the whole month of August. And then when we take a vacation we always DO something. We even ask, “What are you doing for your vacation?” “Are you doing anything for your vacation?” I leave all the planning for vacation to my wife Paula. I hate the planning: the reservations – the tickets – the plans…

Another couple at my first church used to take vacation by getting into their car, going down to the stop sign and asking each other, Right or left? No plans, no reservations. And wherever they ended up, there they were. But wouldn’t that be a real vacation, not just vacating from our homes and jobs, but vacating from thinking and doing?

We are a doing culture and that’s why we are such a success. We are forever planning. We live in the future, considering the next event or plan. It is the way to success. We are so focused on the future and what will happen there that we often are unaware of the present. We live by responsibilities and plans and it’s killing us.

We like doing things so much we do many things at once – called multi-tasking. Sitting at a red light and texting. Eating while watching TV. Having numerous windows open at once. And I’m not talking about the ones on our houses.

We pray while we exercise – killing two birds with one stone…. Remember the Buddhist saying, “One can’t piss and brush one’s teeth at the same time. A mess will be made of the floor and our mouths!”

I learned a long time ago that in ministry there is always something to do. It’s not like punching a clock. I can always think of something more to do. And many pastors are super-doers – like Bishop Grant Hagiya. But it isn’t just pastor who feel this. My wife Paula doesn’t like “stay-cations” because if we are at home, there’s always something to do.

Here’s a spiritual practice for you… Stand in a room in our houses that has many tasks and Just Say No! And speaking of houses… buy a house that there’s always something to do, right?

It is easy to live our whole lives doing, working, planning, cleaning and paying bills. There was once a neighbor who retired and spent every spare moment doing something. Washing the car. Mowing the lawn. “Round-up”ing the weeds in the sidewalk. And that just what I could see. A metaphor for our lives, it is, as Yoda might say)

In this context, prayer has little value. Is it any wonder we do it as quickly as possible?

Then, to make it all worse, it is the doers that win in our world. Think of all the high school students who are doing this and that to build up their resumes. One can’t say, I didn’t belong to any clubs, but I learned how to listen to friends without thinking at the same time. How does one measure that?

Oprah Winfrey famously said she only needed five hours of sleep but she has been trumped by guess who? Donald Trump says he needs only four hours of sleep a night. You snooze you lose. But then we have to stop and ask, is life about winning and losing?

We make a mistake when we read this story… with the assumption I mentioned earlier that it is either one or the other. Either Mary is right or Martha is…

In the NRSV it says that Mary chose the “better part” which invites comparison. And as much as we are into competition, that means one wins and the other loses. But the word agathos is closer to “good” and “upright”. It does not mean one has value and the other does not.

Also there is the intimation that it is the better thing to do while Jesus is present. This is a relative truth, not an absolute truth. The meaning isn’t that we should not work or plan or think. But that there is also this other part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That is to Be with Christ

This is a story of God’s presence in the present, recognizing that the past and the future are never as real as NOW. That God in Christ can only come to us in the present. Sometimes we have to stop Doing and simply Be.

To the aforementioned neighbor I would like to say: “Don’t just DO something, Sit there!” To recognize that wherever we go there we are and not someplace else. A long walk without ear buds. Watching the sun set without thinking. A prayer without words. Watching a river flow. At the parsonage, I like to watch and listen to the wind in the trees.

We are considering visiting Crater Lake when we go to Oregon next month for vacation. The trouble with a place like Crater Lake is… it’s no Wild Waves. There’s the question:  What is there to do there? Driving for hours up to the rim. Look at it, saying, “that’s cool” and leave.

I witnessed people doing that at the Grand Canyon when I was in high school. “Wow it really is big…. What’s for lunch?” Can we sit and look at the Grand Canyon for an hour or two without thinking about the future? Planning the vacation – making the reservations – driving. But when we get there sitting for a while and just being? That’s what this is about….

If we are too busy – always doing, there is little room for God. The meaning is not that doing is bad, but that Being is critical. We need to settle our lives and open our hearts to simply be not just once in a while, but as a practice, so that God can touch our being again.

One of my favorite vacations that wasn’t technically a vacation was Family Camp. It wasn’t technically vacation because we were deans of the camp but we didn’t do much. There wasn’t a heavy agenda…. We weren’t there to do an in depth study.   We were there to simply BE. We didn’t have to cook. The kids were safe.

We allowed for as much unstructured time as possible. Enriching conversations. Watching children play. Long walks on the beach and not worrying about what comes next. A time to simply BE. To balance out all the Doing that makes up our lives.

This isn’t black and white, winning and losing. It’s about finding a balance in life. And balancing our time doing with time being so that they flow together seamlessly. Which is the essence of a DO BE DO life.

Have a nice vacation.  Amen.


Pastor James Clarke

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